Shia-Sunni Nausea

Category: Middle East, World Affairs Topics: Iraq Views: 7299
7299

23 November 2006 was the bloodiest day in Iraq since the invasion and occupation of that land in March 2003. 202 people were killed in a Shiite stronghold, allegedly by Sunni suicide bombers. The Shiites who are the majority retaliated by massacring at least 18 Sunnis. 

This tit for tat Sunni-Shiite violence has been going on for some time now. It took a turn for the worse with the bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine in Samarra on 22 February 2006. Sectarian violence has become so bad that many fear Iraq may further spiral into an uncontrollable blood bath.

What is the primary cause of this violence? Is it rooted in Sunni-Shiite doctrinal differences that go back to the early decades of Islam or is it the consequence of more recent political developments in Iraq?

It is true that a dichotomy developed between those who accepted the line of caliphs that emerged after the Prophet Muhammad's death and those who felt that the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law, Ali Ibn Talib, was his rightful heir. The former came to be known as the Sunnah wal Jamaah (Sunnis) while the latter are referred to as the Shiites. This dichotomy became more pronounced after Ali's assassination in 661 A.D. Various political developments and economic trends in different parts of the Muslim world exacerbated the situation. 

The tussle for power and influence between the Safavid Empire in Iran and the Ottoman Empire in Turkey in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was a case in point. It had a direct impact upon Shiite-Sunni relations in Iraq. The Safavids who had made Shiism the official religion of Iran sought to control Iraq largely because of the tremendous religious significance of Karbala and Najaf. The Sunni Ottomans, on the other hand, were afraid that Shiite teachings would spread to Anatolia (Asia Minor) and wanted Iraq to remain a sort of buffer state. 

Iraq, then known as Mesopotamia, first came under the sway of the Safavids in the early part of the sixteenth century, before it was conquered by the Ottomans, after which it was retaken by the Safavids and then finally it was recaptured by the Ottoman Ruler, Murad 1V in 1638. This was the beginning of continuous Ottoman power over Iraq which lasted till the early decades of the twentieth century. It entrenched a Sunni minority, 20% of the population, over a Shiite majority. There were acts of discrimination by the Sunni elite against the Shiite population which further widened the chasm between the two Muslim communities. But there is no evidence at all of wholesale massacres of Shiites under Ottoman rule. 

Even after the imposition of British colonial rule in Iraq following the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916, there was no record of organized sectarian violence which pitted Sunni against Shiite, though latent animosity remained. This was also more or less the situation in independent Iraq from the monarchical period to the Baathist era. Even under Saddam Hussein's harsh and tyrannical rule which witnessed the suppression of all forms of dissent, Sunnis were targeted as brutally as Kurds and Shiites, there was no Sunni-Shiite bloodletting on any scale, comparable to what is happening today. 

On the contrary, Sunnis and Shiites had forged political alliances on a number of occasions in the last 90 years or so. In 1920 for instance when the Iraqi people chose to resist British occupation, the Shiites were supported by the Sunnis. In 1948, in the al-Wathbah uprising against the British, the Sunnis and Shiites displayed a remarkable degree of solidarity. We should also not forget that in the Iraq-Iran War between 1980 and 1988, the vast majority of Shiites stood by their Sunni leader, Saddam Hussein, against Shiite Iran. Arab nationalism proved to be a much stronger force than sectarian religious loyalties. At the social level too, in spite of sectarian differences, there has been a great deal of Shiite-Sunni interaction in Iraq's modern history. 

According to certain sources, 30% of marriages in Iraq until the 2003 United States' led invasion, were between Shiites and Sunnis. A largely secular society up to the late eighties, the Iraqi middle and upper classes were often oblivious of their Sunni-Shiite, or for that matter, Muslim-Christian affiliations. 

How did all this change so dramatically in the last few years? Some of the masterminds behind the US occupation of Iraq were convinced that the only way to eradicate Saddam's influence upon Iraqi society was to strengthen the Shiite majority and to weaken the Sunni minority which they regarded as the dictator's power base. It was not surprising therefore that they consciously embarked upon the classic colonial policy of 'divide and rule'. 

Paul Bremer, the second American Consul in Iraq, in particular was ruthlessly efficient in driving a wedge between Shiites and Sunnis through his political manipulations and administrative machinations. 

In more specific terms, for the Sunnis two events in 2005 spelt their political doom. The new Iraqi Constitution adopted in October gave much of the authority over oil to the Shiite and Kurdish regions and Sunnis living in areas where there was no oil felt that their future was in jeopardy. The Election in December which boosted the political power of the Shiites and Kurds was perceived as a monumental defeat for the Sunnis. The anger and frustration arising from these two events, a direct result of the occupier's policy of playing Shiites against Sunnis, expressed itself in the Samarra massacre of February 2006. 

Since then, groups within the regular Iraqi military and police and private militias and brigades from both the Sunni and Shiite communities have embarked upon an orgy of violence. For many Sunnis, Shiites are "traitors" who have "betrayed the covenant of Allah and the Prophet" by siding with the occupier. It is the fact of occupation that bestows Sunni attacks upon Shiites. It should be emphasized that a significant segment of Shiites such as the Sadrists are also vehemently opposed to the US-led occupation. Indeed, a survey undertaken by the respected World Public Opinion (WPO) in September 2006 shows that 74% of Shiites and 91% of Sunnis want the occupiers to leave within a year. Both groups " believe US forces are provoking more violence than they are preventing and that day-to-day security would improve if (they) left". 

This then is the solution to Sunni-Shiite violence as the Iraqi people themselves see it.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is the President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).


  Category: Middle East, World Affairs
  Topics: Iraq
Views: 7299

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Older Comments:
ROBERT 'MAMLUKE' KOLAKOWSKI FROM USA (ETHNIC POLISH MAN) said:
1.I did live in an area virtually free from ethnic--based violence due to it is multi--ethnic, and because apparent ignorance is strictly enforced (I still remember when I whispered into my mother's ear if my Eastern Orthodox friend from school in Bialystok City, Podlasie, Poland was an ethnic Belorussian, I got slaps to the back of my neck both from my mother and father--I was ten).
The side effect of that above--stated policy was indifference.
2.Because they are Slavs; and being Slavic is not just language, but a root ethnicity (an ethnicity that pre--existed creation of nations).
3.Greatest killing of the World War II of neighbor by neighbor did occur when Ukrainians murdered 40,000 Polish Civilians, and in an attempt at retribution, the Poles killed between 10,000 to 20,000 Ukrainians.
4.The ancient Slavic--style served--called, sometimes after 3 to 4 generations and sometimes not even in a direct line (great grand uncle), vendetta was exacted on only so few Polish Jews by Poles because under the circumstances, the nazi prosecution and the Holocaust, it was viewed even by the fellow Slavs, in this particular case Poles, as dastardly.
5.Under the circumstances, even the Polish Fascist Underground, estimated at 15% of the total number of the Polish Underground Fighters (the Polish Home Army, even before other Polish Underground groups joined just before the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, constituted well over half of all the Polish Underground) did help the Jews that they considered to be Polish patriots (nota bene: many moderate Zionists were Polish patriots or at least appeared to be; since, to achieve their aims they were trying to reach out to others--this meant not just speaking Polish well, but foreign languages as well); however, most especially in the part of Poland that was under the Soviet rule after September 1939, they did execute on their own the Jews whom they suspected of aiding the Soviet authorities in the deportation of Polish families to Siberia.
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AKBAR KHAN FROM CANADA said:
You asked the right questions, and it was right to the point. Colonialism has been repeating itself in Iraq for the last 100 years, before and after Saddam Hussein.

Chandra Muzaffar has my respect.

And what beautiful calligraphy, mashallah!
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FAZAL FROM SRI LANKA said:
The article gives us a good perspective of the difference between shias & sunnis but at the end these 2 muslims families r killing them selfs for what ever reason.shouldnt these 2 families get together and work towards a better future for their generations to come?
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KRIS FROM MALAYSIA said:
Assalamualaikum wrbt and greetings to all.

I would like to thank Dr. Chandra Muzaffar for a very lucid recollection of historical events particularly in Iraq. It's heartening to note that Sunnis and Syiahs had united in their struggle against the British in the 1920's. Infact this article should be an inspiration to all. Dr. Chandra had put pieces of history together, one which the " present world powers that be " do not want Muslims to know. History I believe, should not be look upon merely from the decks of foreign colonial ships but also from the local shores.

Yes, I agree with my other Muslim brothers that Rasulullah ( s.a.w. ) is not a Sunni or a Syiah. The Prophet ( peace be upon him ) is a Messenger of GOD and he preaches ( I use present tense ) the Oneness of One GOD and calls upon mankind to believe in the Day of Judgment too.

But we are divided today into Sunnis and Syiahs by the events and happening of history. While we cannot at all erase history and remove it's consequences, but we can shape the future history of the ummah by being united. We can do this on all fronts. Our learned scholars from both sides can meet in the table of Muzakarrah and in the spirit of ukhwah. Our leaders can forge better undestandings among nations.

The present conflict in Iraq now between Sunnis and Syiahs are caused by human greed. It has nothing to do with the aqidah or iman. Both Sunnis and Syiahs are fighting for economic and political reasons.

As for the Sunni, they are fighting because of worries that they would be sideline in the administration of the country and that most of the oil producing areas are in Syiah territories. As for the Syiah they are propelled by vengeance, on the cruelties and injustice that Saddam Hussein had inflicted on them earlier. But let me ask the Iraqi Muslims, does all these makes you better than your occuppiers ? Does it ?!

Thank you again Dr. Chandra for a very well informed and truthful piece. May ALLAH B
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SYLVIA HORTON FROM CANADA said:
Salam Alaikum to all,
This was a very enlightning article. I agree whole hearted with this brother. It is so sad that the people in Iraq cannot see the real enemy. That our brothers and sisters hate one another so badly, that they cannot see the real devil!!! As an African-American, we know all about the divide and conquer techniques used by the occupiers. They did the Slaves in the US the same way. The enemy knows exactly what they are doing. They could care less about the Iraqi's, whether sunni or shia, who are dying each and every day. Shatan is sitting back and laughing!! As one brother stated, the more we are divided, the weaker we are. Do you not think that these folks know that?
I feel sick everytime I hear that Muslims are dying in high numbers in Iraq. We have got to learn to live and love eachother. The Umah needs to stop letting these folks divide us. This is one solution to the problem. The next one, is for us to sincerely turn back to Allah, and the ways of the last Prophet (pbuh).
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DR EDRISS FROM US said:

one more article of ignorance in islam.org. (:^").
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BABANDI A. GUMEL FROM U.K. said:
I agree with Bro Omar Rasulullah was the first Muslim in the Ummah.He was neither Sunni or Shia he was one who submitted his will to the will of Allah as He commanded Him. So many places in the Quran Allah mentioned for example Whose words can be better than he who calls towards Allah and then says he is among the Muslimeen.Another Ayah Fear Allah as He is supposed to be feared and don't die unless you are Muslim. He did not say don't die unless you are Sunni or Shia belief in Lailaha illallah Muhammadur Rasulullah makes some one as Muslim.It is Shaitan that tries to divide the Ummah instead of going for the real issue we go on trivial things and the enemies take advantage of this and divide us more.We are all Muslim Ummah who believe in Allah and Muhammad as the Last Prophet any other thing is secondary. May Allah unite the Ummah Amen.The more we are united the stronger the Ummah may be this is why those who are plotting against the Ummah would not like to see us united, unity they say is strength,the more we are united the stronger and stronger we become.The more we are divided the weaker and weaker we become.
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OMAR FROM USA said:
Let me ask the Muslims one thing...

Was Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) a sunni or shia?
We are Muslim first and foremost.

Salaam
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SID GEORGE FROM USA said:
Read S.IV-93 for the solution. And would someone explain to me why this Sura should not apply to all peoples, not just to Muslims.
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HAMID FROM CANADA said:
I would suggest that the collapse of the dictatorial Bathist regime in Iraq unearthed the historical animosity that has for long existed between Sunnis and Shiite. This animosity and hatred has of course no foundation in the teachings of Islam. I do agree that the politics between Safavids and Ottoman Empires being the originators of the modern day conflicts among Shiite and Sunnis; nevertheless, the elements of the tribal culture as well as ignorance, intolerance, and fascism combined with rigid interpretations of Quran and Sunnah have been the contributors to the overall conflicts. How can we ignore the fatwas by some so called Sunni or Shiite ulama who characterize the other party as Kafir and shedding his/her blood to be halal? Have we forgotten the Taliban who systematically massacred Hazara Shiites in Afghanistan? What about in Bahrain in Persian Gulf where a tiny minority group of Sunnis ruling over 80% of Shiite population with very little/no political voice? How about in Saudi Arabia where the Shiite have been systematically suppressed since the emergence of Wahabbis? Monthly if not weekly, there are explosions and massacres in the Sunni or Shiite mosques in Pakistan killing innocent Muslim worshippers in cold blood and in the name of Allah. Is it time that we Muslims stop pointing our fingers to others vindicating our own ignorance in understanding and fulfilling the teachings of Quran? Perhaps it is time that the so called Muslims, Sunnis or Shiite, learn to not only accept but also respect the multiplicity, diversity, and tolerance. Perhaps it is time that we realize that the piety of heart is the only criterion that signifies our short material life, and irrespective of what title (Shiite, Sunni, Muslim, Christian, Jew, etc) we carry.
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HAMID FROM CANADA said:
I would suggest that the collapse of the dictatorial Bathist regime in Iraq unearthed the historical animosity that has for long existed between Sunnis and Shiite. This animosity and hatred has of course no foundation in the teachings of Islam. I do agree that the politics between Safavids and Ottoman Empires being the originators of the modern day conflicts among Shiite and Sunnis; nevertheless, the elements of the tribal culture as well as ignorance, intolerance, and fascism combined with rigid interpretations of Quran and Sunnah have been the contributors to the overall conflicts. How can we ignore the fatwas by some so called Sunni or Shiite ulama who characterize the other party as Kafir and shedding his/her blood to be halal? Have we forgotten the Taliban who systematically massacred Hazara Shiites in Afghanistan? What about in Bahrain in Persian Gulf where a tiny minority group of Sunnis ruling over 80% of Shiite population with very little/no political voice? How about in Saudi Arabia where the Shiite have been systematically suppressed since the emergence of Wahabbis? Monthly if not weekly, there are explosions and massacres in the Sunni or Shiite mosques in Pakistan killing innocent Muslim worshippers in cold blood and in the name of Allah. Is it time that we Muslims stop pointing our fingers to others vindicating our own ignorance in understanding and fulfilling the teachings of Quran? Perhaps it is time that the so called Muslims, Sunnis or Shiite, learn to not only accept but also respect the multiplicity, diversity, and tolerance. Perhaps it is time that we realize that the piety of heart is the only criterion that signifies our short material life, and irrespective of what title (Shiite, Sunni, Muslim, Christian, Jew, etc) we carry.
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MUSTAFA FROM USA said:
As Salaamu Alaikum, being an american Muslim, I can make Dua' for my Iraqi and Iranian Brothers and Sisters Shia and Sunni that Insha Allah they will see the collective power they have as a whole and not as separate enities. we will not be asked if we are Sunni or Shia on the day of days, But, Who is My Lord, who is my Phophet and what is my Religion, I might be mistaken, but, no where in my reading does is ask if I'm Shia or Sunni. As Salaamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah Wa barakatu
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HAJJ ALI FROM USA said:
Brothers and sisters in Islam,

If we read the Quran and the lessons Allah subhana wa ta'ala has put it in we see that as muslims today we are making the exact same mistakes Allah has mentioned of others therein. Was Abraham, Isaac, Ismail, Noah, David, Solomon, Jesus, and Mohammad aleyhom salam sunni or shiah? They were muslim, and our religion, according to Allah, is that of Abraham. All those prophets were the prophets of Islam. Please, let us not be stuck in politics, history, and nationalism. Please, let us open our hearts to Allah and let go of these layers of complexity that have only taken us away from the truth. Let us submit to Allah and not to our egos nor to our cultural traditions nor to our nations, but to Allah alone and to all of us as brothers.

And thank you for this article.

Asalamo aleikom wa rahmat Allah wa barakato
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MARTIN KLUGE FROM GERMANY said:
To the extent of the fact of ancient Shia-Sunni political rivalries and indeed, notwithstanding the great battle of Karbala, the many incidents of bloodletting between these two Muslim brothers, I will agree with the author. But I think it is grossly erroneous to credit current violence and bloodshed in Iraq, to these ancient divisions. After all setting aside the issue of politics, I have seen in many of my travels and debates Shia and Sunni Muslims always supporting and assisting each other. It is all too easy to state these Sunni and Shia are killing each other because that is what they have done historically, when the facts point elsewhere. Ever wonder who benefits from this bloodbath? Israel, US and its allies. There are many incidents of savagery that truly could not have been committed by even the angriest of these groups because certain acts have always been taboo and off limits such as the bombing of Mosques, killing of Muslims engaged in worship and the killing of women and children. Which state do we know sanctions murder and torture, even as of late? Who else but Israel? Which country has historically oppressed, robbed, nuked, massacred, raped, pillaged and slaughtered innocent men, women and children throughout history? The US. Who benefits when Shia and Sunni kill each other? US, Israel and its allies. What could possibly be their reason? Oil and Security for the apartheid state of Israel. It is evident even to the blind, that the killing of Muslims, the injustice and the inhumanity, the lies and deceit and the complete impunity with which these atrocities are committed have reached global proportions, with even "civilised" Europe getting in on the act. It is the awakening and sudden resurgence of Islam that scares those who chose to remain ignorant of the faith, and think slaughtering Muslims will somehow curb their perceived threat of Islam. It is a dangerous game and the results will almost certainly be most unsavory for these "strategists".
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SHARIF FROM USA said:
Thank you Sidiq, thats how its supposed to be but unfortunately its not. the enemey will do anything to break us into pieces but we should be smarter then that and unit.
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SHARIF FROM USA said:
This is a respond to Khalil Bashirs comment Why would the western countries put a majority shias in power? Think about you idiot, you live in America. ITS CALLED DEMOCRACY, AND IN A DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS THE MAJORITY WINS!
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SHARIF FROM USA said:
Sounds like all the arabs are more threatened by shias then by the enemy of Islam. Why are all the arabs afraid of shia influence?? What are the Shia influence?? When was the last time the shias forced their school of thoughs on other muslims?? A while back the UAE's princess ran away with an American soldier, had that soldier been a guy from Iran they would have started a war with Iran. He enjoyed her for a short period of time and dumped her and her family didnt do nothing but sit there and watch. So why are arab sunnies afraid of shias?? Did a shia majority country ever attack a sunni majority country? Didnt Saddam Hussain invade Kuwait?? And ISNT SADDAM A SUNI ARAB?? THINK ABOU TIT!
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TASNEEM FROM USA said:
Khalid, how about all the readers getting involved, and see why shia should be in power..maybe they are the mojority?
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HAJJ ALI FROM USA said:
Brothers and sisters in Islam,

If we read the Quran and the lessons Allah subhana wa ta'ala has
put it in we see that as muslims today we are making the exact
same mistakes Allah has mentioned of others therein. Was
Abraham, Isaac, Ismail, Noah, David, Solomon, Jesus, and
Mohammad aleyhom salam sunni or shiah? They were muslim,
and our religion, according to Allah, is that of Abraham. All
those prophets were the prophets of Islam. Please, let us not be
stuck in politics, history, and nationalism. Please, let us open
our hearts to Allah and let go of these layers of complexity that
have only taken us away from the truth. Let us submit to Allah
and not to our egos nor to our cultural traditions nor to our
nations, but to Allah alone and to all of us as brothers.

Asalamo aleikom wa rahmat Allah wa barakato
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HAJJ ALI FROM USA said:
Brothers and sisters in Islam,

If we read the Quran and the lessons Allah subhana wa ta'ala has
put it in we see that as muslims today we are making the exact
same mistakes Allah has mentioned of others therein. Was
Abraham, Isaac, Ismail, Noah, David, Solomon, Jesus, and
Mohammad aleyhom salam sunni or shiah? They were muslim,
and our religion, according to Allah, is that of Abraham. All
those prophets were the prophets of Islam. Please, let us not be
stuck in politics, history, and nationalism. Please, let us open
our hearts to Allah and let go of these layers of complexity that
have only taken us away from the truth. Let us submit to Allah
and not to our egos nor to our cultural traditions nor to our
nations, but to Allah alone and to all of us as brothers.

Asalamo aleikom wa rahmat Allah wa barakato
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SHAIKH NASIR ALI FROM INDIA said:
As salam walaikum all muslims
well it is rightly pointed out that it has no where in the Quran referenced to shai or sunni muslim. but there are lot of things which has been referred in Quran but in practice it is highly violated.
Mr Bashir, this is just a diplomatic stand of the US government to gain control over Iran oil reservoir. even if sunni muslim has the majority they would have done the same thing. so it is not the people who is fighting it is the control who makes them fight.
rest pray to god that people of Iraq will turn to follow the saying of Allah through Quran.
Allah Akbar.
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SIDDIQ FROM USA said:
No where in the Qur'an will you find reference to a Shia Muslim or a Sunni Muslim. Prophet Muhammad(saws) never heard of a Shia Muslim or a Sunni Muslim. This concept is not a Islamic Religious concept but a cultural/political concept. We need to stop characterizing this issue with being a part of Islamic history because it is not. It's a part of the history of some muslims but not a part of Al-Islam(the revealed way of life). When a person ask me are you shia or sunni, I respond by saying neither one. I say I'm a Muslim. If they say what type, I say I'm a believing Muslim Insha'Allah. For the muslims who are not caught in these cultural ways, we should reject these labels and let those labels die out over time with the people who accept these labels.
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KHALIL BASHIR FROM USA said:
I like the information that has been presented within this article, but I would like to have seen something which pointed to the reasons why the Western powers would want a majority Shiite power base in Iraq. I'd like to know what the goals would be for doing this?
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